Budget surplus highest in years

NANAIMO: School district sees $3.2 million at end of 2011-12.

It was the year of the growing surplus for Nanaimo school district last year.

The district ended the 2011-12 year with a $3.2-million surplus – up from the $2.8-million surplus predicted last May, the $2.3 million expected earlier in the spring, and the $900,000 forecast last October.

It is the highest surplus the district has had looking back 12 years, said Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer.

He credits tight controls on spending, savings due to teacher job action and the funding protection grant, which ensured the district received the same amount in its operating budget as the previous year despite declining enrolment, for the higher-than-normal surplus.

Trustees approved the district’s 2011-12 audited financial statements with the final numbers at a special board meeting last week.

Turin said the growth of $400,000 in the surplus funds, which happened between his last forecast at the end of May and now, is mainly due to extra and unanticipated provincial funding for the district’s distance learning students, adding that his forecasted surplus in June was conservative.

Of the $3.2-million surplus, $1.6 million was set aside last spring to balance this year’s budget and another $1.16 million of the surplus is money restricted for specific expenditures such as school supplies, community schools and communications.

The unrestricted operating surplus is $480,000, which Turin hopes to put toward next year’s budget, as last spring he predicted a budget shortfall of about $2.1 million for the 2013-14 school year.

“Hopefully we can put it in the cupboard for a bit,” he said. “The funding protection is going to go away gradually and enrolment is not going up, so we’ve got to face those issues.”

For the past 12 years, the district has ended every year but one with a surplus and the average year-end surplus over that time period is $1.3 million, Turin added.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the surplus situation is a good one to be in and as a result, the district has been able to improve the classroom situation to some extent – officials are trying to keep all classrooms at 30 students or less this year.

The surplus has also meant some other improvements, he added.

Last June when trustees were expecting at least a $2.8-million surplus, the board also decided to restrict some of it for two extra expenditures: $174,000 for technology upgrades and $72,000 to buy 12 automatic floor scrubbers.

But with funding protection on the decline, the secretary-treasurer has cautioned trustees not to expect the situation to remain as it is now, Brennan said.